When the vet nurse asks if you’d like a moment to say goodbye and you know that no moment will ever be long enough.

Published by: Seagreen on 8th Jan 2018 | View all blogs by Seagreen


We lost one of our rescue rabbits on Friday. Our beautiful, black Netherland Dwarf. Her name was Piper, sister to Phoebe - age and history indeterminate. What follows here might be a blog, or it might not. It might just be an exploration of thoughts and feelings that have overwhelmed me this past weekend. I blame Shelley Harris. I went to her workshop at York in September and she said, ‘Be human,’ so this is me, being human. 


The girls were our only outdoor rabbits. A bonded pair, small and placid. I brought them home having seen them languishing for three months in the adoption pens of the pet shop. How was it possible that nobody wanted them? The fact that I had nowhere to house them and they spent Christmas at the Bunny Boarding place was neither here nor there. They eventually settled into a playhouse at the bottom of our garden and, apart from feeding and cleaning, we left them to their own devices. They had each other and preferred it that way.


But on Tuesday morning, Piper isolated herself from her sister and was off her food. We’ve seen it twice before in our other rabbits - gastrointestinal stasis. Caused by any number of things, it can be bad news for bunnies. We took Piper to the vet for a series of gut motility-inducing injections and pain relief, and brought her home with an appointment for the next day if we weren’t happy with her. She jumped out of the carrier and headed straight for the kale and the carrot tops to prove to us that we were over-anxious. We laughed in relief and gauged her against our experience with the other two rabbits who’d been fine once they started eating again. 

That was our first mistake. 

On Friday morning, my daughter fed the rabbits before she went to work. ‘Watch Piper,’ she said. ‘She’s not right.’ 

The second mistake was mine. I didn’t check her soon enough. 

The calm-on-the outside, ex-cardiology nurse was not in evidence when I rushed Piper to the vet two hours later. ‘Rabbit… no appointment… not even registered with you.’ The weight in my chest and the obstruction in my throat made it impossible for me to speak and somehow I managed not to convey to the receptionist the urgency of a very sick rabbit, but the belief that I had brought one who was already dead. Thank goodness for the nurse who picked through my garbled speech and whisked us through to an empty room. 


I shied away when the vet said it, but it wasn’t an accusation. Rabbits, it seems, are adept at hiding how sick they are. Our gorgeous girl who’d scorned the extra insulation and heat pads we added to the playhouse during the cold snap, had fallen victim to the milder temperatures by virtue of being unwell. How could we not have known this? How could we not have heard, read or been told that hypothermia was a real risk in rabbits when they were poorly? 

The vet tried his best. Wrapped her in blankets to bring her temperature up and gave her fluids. Gave us hope. Sent her home that evening with instructions for overnight care (since they had no resources at the practice) and an appointment for the following day. It wasn’t to be. Piper died at home that night, with her sister and the sobbing wrecks of two humans beside her. 

These same two humans now flay themselves with ‘if onlys’.  If only we had taken her back to the vet on Wednesday. If only we had been more observant. If only we had brought her indoors. If only… if only… if only. Our sense of having failed her is acute, and I can’t begin to describe how that feels. The dam of tears pressing behind dry eyes. The hard lump of emotion interrogating every word. 

Some of you who read this may not get it. I understand that. Rabbits are still, for the most part, perceived as pets for children. Believe me when I tell you that I am not your typical pet lover. Dogs are fine when they are other people’s, and should I ever be cast in the role of a cynical, judgemental old bat, I won’t have to scratch too far below the surface to turn in an Oscar-winning performance. But Piper was special. Shy. Good-natured. Inquisitive. She wriggled her way into my heart. When I held her, she would press her head into my neck with a snuffle-sniff that, without fail, made me smile… made me giggle. She had a way of squirming upwards to put her paws on my shoulder to get a better view of the world. She sweetened and soothed my soul and no moment will ever be long enough to let that go.  

For the time being, Phoebe remains indoors. 




  • Sandra
    by Sandra 2 months ago
    Oh, Sea ... such sorrow. For Phoebe, for you, for the 'if onlys' . Tmie will heal, but you still have to go through it, don't you. If hugs will help, there's a dozen good quality ones on their way.
  • L.
    by L. 2 months ago
    I am so sorry for you, sounds like Piper was very special girl. Sending you love x
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 2 months ago
  • Janeshuff
    by Janeshuff 2 months ago
    So sad, Sea. Sending many hugs.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 2 months ago
  • Scarlett
    by Scarlett 2 months ago
    I couldn't actually read all of this, not because it wasn't good but because I know I while soon have this hideous moment with my dog. I can tell she's on her last legs.

    I'm so sorry, these animals become a member of the family and you love them like you'd love a relative so sometimes you grieve just as much, but you don't tend to get the same sympathy. I lost my first horse 18 years ago, on December 15th I always have a little cry remembering her. You just have certain ones that are special that you never forget.

    My dog has seen me through the three hardest times in my life with her ever lasting love, loyalty and humour. She's a funny dog.

    Again I'm so sorry for your loss xxx
  • Purple witch
    by Purple witch 2 months ago
    I read this and felt such sympathy for you Sea.
    I know exactly what you are saying - My long eared, furry garden dweller is called Stu. Not a child's pet - he's my little bright spark in a sometimes mediocre day . He is such a character and chews anything that takes his fancy: On his last foray indoors he chewed my washing machine drain hose and electrical cable as well as my unused, still wrapped garden parasol. He also athletically jumped from the floor to a chair and onto my dining table and was chewing pot pourri from my table arrangement before I discovered what he was up too. I have a safety gate up now to limit his indoor visits.

    Stuey helpfully gardens my lawn to create small divots for me to infill daily and skilfully plays "will I, wont I, jump back into my hutch" each evening at bedtime. He has a rather discerning palate and will choose curly kale over broccoli and raspberries not strawberries. I think he has me weighed up pretty well and will not eat dandelions from the garden unless I pick them and offer them in his dish; and, contrary to the wide held belief that rabbits like carrots, my black fluff-ball (or should that be fuss-ball) does not.

    Our smaller, furry, family members are just as important and just as loved as any other family members and they enrich our lives so much.
  • Jill
    by Jill 2 months ago
    Sorry for your loss, Seagreen. Piper did, indeed, sound like a very special creature and I can imagine the good relationship you had with her. You have provided a great playhouse home for both Piper and Phoebe and I hope that Phoebe, when the weather improves, will return with appreciation and continue to give you pleasure for a long time to come. :) Sending virtual hugs.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 2 months ago
    Oh Sea, I'm so sorry for you. The emotion shines through this piece. And I can so identify with beating yourself up with, 'Why didn't I spot that,' and 'How could I have been so stupid.' I do exactly the same thing. *Have* done exactly the same thing. *Am* doing exactly the same thing. Just before Christmas (19th), Nutmeg was put to sleep. Ten days later, I brought Brendan and Cobweb indoors, as they were all-but collapsed in the bitter cold we've had; and they're nigh on 200 yo. They're still indoors and I'm now waiting. And asking myself those self-same questions.
    Hypothermia? Is that so irreversible? I've wondered about the dangers of bringing an outdoor animal straight into a heated house - is that wise? Turned the heating off, turned it back on.
    Like you, I wish I believed there was nothing more I could do, but I don't.
    You just don't know what to do for the best. If you knew, you'd do it.
    So please remember that you gave Piper a better life than she might otherwise have expected, and you probably brought her as much joy as she brought you; nobody has a perfect life and we all have to die of something.
    Doubtless Phoebe will be grieving, just as you are.
    Monster hugs. Wx
  • Hilly
    by Hilly 2 months ago
    So sorry for your loss, Seagreen. Rabbits don't seem to have as much kudos as dogs or cats. When my big old buck rabbit Binkey died, I was heartbroken and didn't have another animal until now, over forty-five years later and can't even begin to fathom how I will feel about our new members of the family, especially as they are rescue dogs and already ill with pre-existing conditions caught on the mountains.
    You can't second guess yourself or you'll go mad. You gave Piper a loving home. Who of us can ask for more?
    Like the others, sending virtual hugs and imaginary boxes of chocolates.
  • Raine
    by Raine 2 months ago
    Oh Sea, it doesn't matter at all what shape they come in, if we love them then it's heartbreaking to lose them. I'm crying with you, if that's any comfort at all. Poor wee Piper, poor wee Phoebe. And yes, I understand the guilt too. I underestimated how sick my cat, Otis, was last year. I could have taken him to the vets a few days sooner, and perhaps it would have turned out differently.

    Give Phoebe lots of cuddles and make sure she doesn't get lonely. That's all you can do. Big hugs, lovely. xxx
  • Scheherazade
    by Scheherazade 2 months ago
    Oh Sea, I do understand. I feel the same about our guinea pigs - only little rodents but when Rico died his brother Iggy cried and could not be comforted. People who think animals have no souls don't know what they're talking about.
  • Kate
    by Kate 2 months ago
    So sad Sea. Lots of bunnies have terrible lives as children's pets, cooped up in tiny hutches. I know it doesn't help, but it sounds as if she had a lovely life.
  • Tony
    by Tony 2 months ago
    To Piper

    Lost, forlorn, abandoned, languishing for months,
    I found you and your sister, rescued you;
    Gave you new-found freedom, a playhouse for your home:
    And soon a place in my heart for you, too.

    For special were the times you let me hold you.
    Your tickles on my neck with your soft fur;
    Paws upon my shoulders, your sweet head lifted high
    To gaze around and see just what was there.

    A home I gave to you and Phoebe for a time;
    You loved it here and shared that love with me;
    Always raised my spirits with giggles and a smile.
    Those special times remain, will always be.
  • Seagreen
    by Seagreen 2 months ago
    I'm sorry for inflicting my misery on you, but thank you all for being so understanding. All hugs gratefully received and shared. I've gone from resisting the need to explain that Piper wasn't 'just a rabbit' to realising that you already know.
  • Seagreen
    by Seagreen 2 months ago
    Oh, Tony, just saw your poem *holds back the tears* Thank you.
  • BellaM
    by BellaM 2 months ago
    Oh Sea, I am so very sorry. I used to keep guinea pigs and I know how much any loved creature steals your heart.

    Please, please try not to beat yourself up over the "if only"s. You did your best, that much is very clear, and that is all any of us can do. From what you say I doubt overnight care at the vet would have made a difference, so I am glad they didn't have it and Piper could pass peacefully at home with her family.

  • Giselle
    by Giselle 2 months ago
    So sorry for you Sea, those small, cuddly creatures do wiggle into our hearts, don't they? Big hugs.
    @Whisks, so sorry to hear about Nutmeg. Poor spice girl.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 2 months ago
    Thanks Giselle, Sweetheart. :(
    Sea, have come back to say that I'm blaming myself too - if you care about somebody, it's fairly natural. But I'm trying to tell myself - and you too - that we must have got most things very right for them to have lived as long and as well as they did, so we're allowed to get one thing wrong. It's not necessarily wrong, either. Sometimes nobody's to blame; the God conspire. They really do. x
  • J.net
    by J.net 2 months ago
    There's something very special about connecting with animals, and when you have been rewarded by their trust and love, it's no surprise that their loss becomes overwhelming. One great big hug sent to you, Sea, not that it fills that hole in your life or the raw grief you feel. Hope Phoebe comes to terms with it too x
  • Seagreen
    by Seagreen 2 months ago
    All you lovely Cloudies, thank you. I know that the loss of my little rabbit is just a tiny ripple in a huge pond, but I’ve been overwhelmed by your responses. I was in two minds about posting this last night, but I gave it to my daughter to read and she said ‘Mum, it’s what you do.’ And it is, isn’t it? As writers, we write about the stuff that’s important to us, however small.

    Sandra – the ‘if onlys’ are part of the hardest thing about this, so thanks for the good quality hugs. Much appreciated.

    L., Daeds, Janeshuff and WB – thank you, too.

    Scarlett – I’m sorry about your dog. Just by being there, our pets make it easier to cope with the hard times and I know you’ve had a few. I want to say something that will help but I don’t think anything does.

    Purple Witch – thanks for sharing. You’re lucky to have such a helpful rabbit. None of my rabbits are any good at gardening, but I do have one who’s pushing for a new carpet by chewing the old one, and a grumpy little male who fights with the feather duster.

    Jill – If I can, I’d like to find another companion for Phoebe before I send her back outside. At the moment, she doesn’t seem too distressed, but I’m biding my time.

    Whisks – Your long-lived girls are testament to your care and I know exactly how much you worry. As for the hypothermia thing, it was something I worried about in the really cold weather, and gave it no thought whatsoever when the temperature rose. I think it takes hold of them really quickly, and once their core temperature drops to a certain level, there’s no coming back from it.

    Hilly – I think rabbits are viewed as the ‘easy’ option. Cheap. Less responsibility. Which is a shame. Thank you for the hugs and I’m trying to resist the chocolates.

    Raine – Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry. But wouldn’t it be so much easier if pets came with a little health indicator? Cut out the guesswork and the guilt. As for Phoebe, I’m keeping a close eye on her and thinking about getting a stuffed toy until I see how she goes.

    Scheherazade – I read somewhere that siblings from the same litter miss their companions the most. And souls? Yes. Definitely.

    Kate – It’s horrible. They get no chance to develop into the funny little characters they ought to be when they’re cooped up. Although I know that on occasions when a little grey fur-ball is in the bathroom playing with the toilet brush I might wish she were confined to her hutch.

    Tony – It’s perfect. Thank you.

    Bella – You’re right. As heart-wrenching as it was, I’m thankful she had the chance to cuddle up with her sister before she died.

    Giselle – it’s the innocent way they go about it, like they didn’t mean to do it.

    Whisks – I know what you mean, but as a life lesson, it sucks.

    J.net – I think Phoebe is comfort eating. One whole carrot and some threads from the back of the sofa.
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